Finding the Heart of a Progressive Education
Q&A with Josie Holford, Head of School, Poughkeepsie Day School:
How does the no testing/no grading philosophy work?
The traditional assessment system is designed to rank and sort out winners and losers. At Poughkeepsie Day School, we think of assessment as an ongoing, in-depth conversation about learning and growth. We do provide feedback for students designed to lead students to think, to engage and reflect on their learning. Student work is often collaborative so feedback comes from peers, teachers and sometimes a wider audience beyond the school building if sharing work online.
Empathy, being able to build and work with a team, mental agility, emotional resilience, perseverance, the ability to communicate across all kinds of boundaries, and collaborate across distance — these are the skills our children need to thrive. They are not on any standardized test.
What are the benefits of a no-grade policy?
Children bring their hopes and dreams to school and they are full of curiosity and questions. Children love to learn. Our job is to keep that love of learning alive. Giving children intellectual room and respecting their individual strengths, without the stress of unnecessary tests, allows the unique constellation of their talents and interests to emerge.
Interestingly, many highly competitive colleges are moving away from standardized test scores and going test-optional. Close to 200 colleges — some of them among the most selective — no longer require the SAT or the ACT for admission. Employers are beginning to move away from the resume and emphasis on credentials. They want to know what the applicants can do and whether they can be effective in the position.
How does your curriculum differ from Common Core?
The big problem with the Common Core is that it seems to have been created by people who think of children as miniaturized adults. The standards are developmentally inappropriate in some very serious ways. Kindergarten has changed, but the developmental needs of small children have not.
Our curriculum grows from the developmental needs of children and is responsive to their growing intellectual awareness. It allows time to imaginative play in early childhood, a rich environment for exploration and inquiry. Children are full of curiosity and teachers at PDS strive to keep that curiosity alive and expanding.
What else should I know about the PDS philosophy?
At the heart of progressive education lie the developmental needs of the child. It’s a philosophy that leans into the future and focuses on learning as joyful and experiential. It prepares students for active participation in a democratic society by creating a community context in the classroom and school. It means an enduring commitment to social justice.
The strategies of progressive education involve:
- Attention to the whole child and not just the skills and abilities that can be measured on a standardized test. Empathy and compassion combined with effort, imagination, and teamwork mean that students can stretch to their potential.
- Knowing that we are all unique. Progressive schools support student interests and draw on them as they build curriculum.
- Minimizing the impact of testing, grading and ranking. Children don’t need to be motivated to learn and the most important things they need to learn are not measurable on a standardized test.
- Getting involved in real world endeavors and authentic problem solving. This means field trips, projects, and hands-on activities where students are at the center of the activity
- Seeing connections between and amongst subjects, interdisciplinary learning, and learning by doing that integrates the abstraction of academic learning.
- It means time for the arts, music, recess and imaginative play, and all the things that make us human. It means students who experience being in school and learning as joyful.
Poughkeepsie Day School
260 Boardman Rd.
Poughkeepsie, NY 12603